A pilgrimage to Gallipoli is being made by soldiers from 1 SCOTS and school pupils next month to mark the centenary of one of the most tragic battles of World War One.
Accompanying them to Turkey will be Duns minister Stephen Blakey who will act as chaplain to the Gallipoli Battlefield tour group.
“I will be there to officiate at any memorial ceremonies such as laying of wreaths at war memorials, and to give support especially to the school children who are attending,” Stephen explained.
“Visiting such places always stirs emotions and it is important to have a chaplain available to help people talk about their thoughts and feelings.
“I am the senior Army Reserve Chaplain in Scotland, presently chaplain to 52nd Lowland, 6th Bn Royal Regiment of Scotland, our local Army Reserve Infantry unit. I served 16 years as a Regular Army Chaplain and sent some of that time with 1 KOSB. I have continued my KOSB connections and am chaplain of the Berwick Branch of the KOSB Association.”
The school pupils who are joining the Gallipoli pilgrimage are from Queen Victoria School, Dunblane and are all sons and daughter of servicemen and women.
Along with the soldiers from 1 SCOTS, the KOSB’s successor battalion in the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the pupils will spend five days at the battlefields seeing for themselves where the soldiers of the KOSB laid down their lives.
“Although in the public imagination, the First World War is very much associated with the trench warfare of the Western front, for those close to the KOSB, the heat and slaughter of Gallipoli is one of the first battles that comes to mind,” said Lt Col (retd) Andy Middlemiss, one of the trip organisers.
“Many people associate Gallipoli solely with the ANZACs, but actually they made up less than a third of the allied forces,” he said.
“The courage and sacrifice of the British, French and Colonial troops should also be remembered. On the first landing, the KOSB’s 1st Battalion lost 296 men in 24 hours, including their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Koe.
“British, French, Colonial and Anzac soldiers began a poorly planned attack, up brutally steep cliff faces, on the Dardanelles peninsula, south of what is now Istanbul. Despite taking huge casualties, they battled on for eight months against courageous Turkish soldiers, desperate to defend their homeland.
“Trench warfare again broke out, but this time in blistering heat, and with swarms of flies attending the soldiers’ every move, bringing disease and sickness. So great were the casualties that more troops were sent out, including the famous Scottish 52nd Division, with 2000+ Territorials from the Borders, and Dumfries and Galloway.
“As the battles wore on, so many were lost that postmen in the Borders stopped delivering mail, so great was the sorrow back in Scotland, the postie’s arrival having become synonymous with bad news. Some of them weren’t even 18.”
Carol Dunn, matron at QVS Dunblane, and herself mother of a serving soldier in 2 SCOTS, with operational tours behind him said: “The children we are taking are not much younger than many of the soldiers, and I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional for all of us, to see where these very young men fell.
“I can really see this from a mum’s perspective. We mustn’t forget that it would have been horrendous for those on the homefront too. The worst bit was probably the not knowing, and the length of time it took to get any hard information and news.”
Captain Russell Macleod- leading the party from 1 SCOTS said: “We cannot wait for this trip.
“Gallipoli is one of our major battle honours and for today’s Jocks to walk precisely in the footsteps, on the harsh terrain and rocky peninsula, of the 1915 Jocks is going to be incredibly special.
“We must learn from what happened, we must honour our forebears, and most importantly, we must talk about it with all three generations going on this trip. It’s an honour for our group to have been chosen by the Colonel to represent the Jocks of 100 years ago.”
After eight months hard fighting with appalling casualties, both from disease and combat, the allied forces withdrew in January 1916, in ironically the most successful part of the whole operation, without losing a single casualty, but thousands had already paid the ultimate price with their lives.
For Colonel Andy Middlemiss, this pilgrimage will be a powerful tribute to those who fell on Turkish soil. “It is important to remember that these men of the KOSB, and thousands of others on both sides, showed incredibly bravery and guts in terrible conditions,” he said.
“So, the conclusion of the trip will be a small ceremony at the main war grave cemetery, with four pipers, prayers and readings.
“It will be emotional to be there, to remember, and to see what was lost in human sacrifice. For all of us, the young school kids, the serving Jocks from 1 SCOTS and us “Old and Bold” -this is going to be the trip of a lifetime.
“We are really grateful to Legion Scotland for helping us fund this trip, with a generous grant from their WW1 Commemorations Fund.”